In her article Law Firms Demote Partners as Pressure Mounts Over Profits, the author Sara Randazzo (a legal business reporter at The Wall Street Journal) painted a real picture of the state of legal practice in the US.
As a lawyer who used to practice law at a large firm, to me this storyline sounds familiar… and not surprising. Most lawyers begin their legal careers dreaming about becoming a partner at a prestigious firm. Most lawyers then proceed to work hard on being the most exceptional lawyers they can be – to excel at lawyering by being great advocates and prolific writers. There is a belief and an expectation of sort that if you put in the time, bill the hours, and do the work, you will become partner.
What’s astonishing is how many lawyers are lacking basic business knowledge and understanding of what it takes to run a business. And yet, many expect to be made partners, i.e. co-owners of the firm.
And I should know that well – I used to be that lawyer!
As a business owner myself (even though it is outside of practicing law), I now see how absurd that is. As an owner, why would I ever bring on someone as my partner if they were not contributing to growing the business as much as I am or even more! If I want quality work, I will hire employees. If I want to grow the business, I will look for partners. It’s that simple.
While many lawyers reminisce with a great deal of nostalgia about the good old days of practicing law, many haven’t embraced the fact that the practice of law has long ago transformed into the business of law, and there is no going back.
What’s not simple are the inherent challenges of balancing a lawyer’s duty to be an exceptional professional, while simultaneously becoming an exceptional rainmaker. While many lawyers reminisce with a great deal of nostalgia about the good old days of practicing law, many haven’t embraced the fact that the practice of law has long ago transformed into the business of law, and there is no going back.
These days, lawyers need not only be great lawyers but also great business developers. And the more senior a lawyer becomes, the more important their rainmaking skills become to their firm. So if experienced lawyers do not want to become obsolete, they need to step up their business development education, efforts, and results early on.
What I personally would love to see is that we lose the “survival of the fittest” attitude in law and begin building a more supportive and collaborative environment. I would love to see more law schools and law firms emphasizing the importance of business development early on and investing into training and coaching programs to help lawyers acquire the basic business skills they so desperately need.
Otherwise, the firms stand to lose both the experienced lawyers and the rising stars millennial lawyers. Many experienced, talented lawyers will leave or get cast aside after investing many years of their lives into a profession that no longer needs them. And the millennial lawyers will jump ship if they don’t see that the firm truly cares about them and is willing to invest into their career development.
I urge all lawyers and law firm leaders to wake up to the fact that in order to thrive they need to train and develop their people, not just place expectations.